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Arizona Death Penalty Lawsuit Hearing Scheduled For Thursday

injection table
Arizona Department of Corrections
Arizona began executing death-row inmates by lethal injection in 1993.

The Arizona Department of Corrections wants to throw out a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of its revised execution protocol before a supply of lethal injection drugs expires next month.

A judge will hear arguments from both sides on Thursday.

Representing seven inmates facing execution, as well as a coalition of news media, lawyers for the plaintiffs argue in court documents that the state’s proposed execution method violates the Constitution's first, eighth and fourteenth amendments.

Their case focuses on the cocktail of drugs the state wants to use for lethal injections. Also used in the so-called “botched” 2014 execution of Joseph Wood, midazolam is supposed keep an inmate from feeling pain while they die. But the plaintiffs argue there’s no way to be sure midazolam will work because a paralyzing drug masks whether it’s effective in preventing pain caused by a third drug, potassium chloride.

The state argues that the U.S. Supreme court has upheld using the paralytic drug, which is not given to inmates until after midazolam makes them unconscious and therefore unable to feel pain.

It also argues the plaintiffs have failed to provide an alternative for execution that is feasible, can be implemented quickly and reduces risks the inmates will feel pain during their execution.

State officials previously said Arizona’s supply of midazolam will expire in May.

EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is a member of the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.